What could that little girl in the pink tank top
type in her iPad to make her mother say
I’m glad she’s nonverbal
to the woman in the bus seat beside them?
The mother must carry supplies in the suitcase
she pulls behind her.
It seems heavy.
What else keeps her daughter quiet?
Years ago I smoked
every Wednesday night with the mother
of a boy with Downs Syndrome.
We’d meet at her house to pre-game
before Ladies Night at the bar and wait
for her teenage sister to show up to babysit.
She never complained out loud
or in front of him, like the woman on the bus,
but the way we stumbled through
her living room, hiding the homemade water bong
behind the couch when he snuck down the stairs,
his every loud yell met with shushes…
I remember one bad high.
I sat in the corner of the living room,
eating slice after slice from a loaf
of white bread she pushed into my hands.
There were lures lining the bathroom walls
of the catfish restaurant at Kentucky Lake, free bowl
of hushpuppies on the table, one night stop
on our honeymoon to the Grand Canyon.
He ripped my nightgown back at the hotel.
Two holes in the back where his fingers slid
through thin fabric, grabbing. I carried it,
the fraying lace, through twelve more cities
and back home to Pittsburgh.
I caught a small channel cat once.
He kissed it and held it up for the camera.
Slender whiskers tickled his face.
Their barbels always come in pairs—
twin tongues tasting the muddy bed.
Things I’ve learned: Rub frog poison
on hands before trying to catch an electric eel—
for the numbness.
An empty stomach makes a good hunter.
I was numb before him, empty for so long
the hunt ceased. He had poisoned himself—
almost to the same numbness—but knew
he had to keep touching me, discharge
any stubborn electricity remaining.
We’ve caught bluegill before,
but none with bellies this orange.
Everything is brighter here except the lake,
dark with tannins from the trees.
I float in these tea-stained waters.
When he paddles behind
one of the islands, I feel alone.
I won’t pull out a pole.
I can’t bait the hook, I have only touched fish
with a single finger down a fat side.
He puts each catch back into cold water.
Even if the next angler does the same
and the next and the next, bluegill won’t grow larger
than the size of a frying pan.
They hide in lily pads,
it’s only their hunger that brings them out.
Later, we’ll see a muskrat swim the length
of our lakefront. A duck with three ducklings,
tomorrow, will emerge from the weeds.